As we look forward to our Journey to Bethlehem experience, we hope you will follow along with us as we read “The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem” by Adam Hamilton. Copies will be available at church on Sundays and can be easily purchased online.
December 20, 2020
Devotional: The Journey to Bethlehem
Scripture: Read Luke 2:1-7
“Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee in Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.”
Mary and Joseph have already been through so much in this story. Their plans to start a life together were disrupted by news of an unexpected child. They became uncertain in their relationship and were nearly driven apart. Even though at this point in scriptures they have reconciled, they still face the unknown in the birth of their first child together and in how his miraculous life might unfold. This is the time, when Mary is almost ready to give birth, that they are given another challenge.
Mary and Joseph are in Nazareth, Mary’s hometown, when Augustus sends out the decree that all must be registered. In “ The Journey,” Adam Hamilton says a typical couple at that time would have already returned to the hometown of the husband, Bethlehem in this case, to begin their life together. Mary and Joseph instead stayed in Nazareth, possibly because she was already advanced in her pregnancy when they set their marriage plans and the days long journey to Bethlehem would be difficult. Now, at the last moment and at the worst possible time, that journey is forced upon them anyway.
Hamilton sets out fascinating information about the path Mary and Joseph might have traveled to Bethlehem and what they would have encountered once they reached a town crowded with visiting relatives. What we know for certain is the journey would have been long, it would have been very challenging for Mary and it was a situation not of their making. The crowding Mary and Joseph encounter when they arrive in Bethlehem remind us that they were not the only ones on an unexpected journey. For some, this forced travel home may have been a welcome time to reconnect with family, but there were likely others, like Mary and Joseph, with medical, financial or family issues that made their own journeys especially difficult. Broad circumstances that affect whole communities do not affect everyone the same.
“I invite you, regardless of the journey you are on, to trust, have faith, and to hope that your difficult journeys will never be the end of your story, because God is by your side. . . It was just such hope, I believe, that kept Mary going on that long, difficult journey to Bethlehem.”
To consider: 1. When in your life did a journey radically alter your life? How were you changed? 2. The journey of Mary and Joseph demonstrated that God was with them.
How do you experience God being with you as you journey through life and as you face significant journeys ahead?
December 13, 2020
Devotional: Joseph of Bethlehem and Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth
Scripture: Read Luke 1:39-56 and Matthew 1:18-24 (summarized from “The Journey,” Hamilton).
“ . . .Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream . . .”
Mary of Nazareth was betrothed to Joseph of Bethlehem when she learned of and accepted God’s plan that she would give birth to the Messiah. Soon after her visit from the angel Gabriel, Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth. In “The Journey,” we learn that Elizabeth’s home with her husband, Zechariah, is thought to be Ein Karem, a town just 4 miles from Joseph’s home of Bethlehem. Adam Hamilton considers Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth as the likely time that Joseph would have heard the news that Mary was already pregnant. We know from Luke that Mary does not even have to explain her situation to her cousin. Upon greeting Mary, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she knows at that moment that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah. However, the Bible does not tell us how Mary relays this news to Joseph, and we do not know how he immediately reacts.
The scriptures say very little about Joseph, especially after the birth of Jesus. At this moment, we know he is a simple carpenter. He is from Bethlehem, the hometown of King David and the promised home of the Messiah who is to come. But at this point in time, like Nazareth, Bethlehem is just another small town, and Joseph is a working man who calls Bethlehem home. So how does this simple but righteous man respond when he hears his betrothed is already pregnant? We know Joseph takes time, at least one night, to consider and wrestle with his decision. Hamilton imagines this as a potentially dark time for Joseph, filled with uncertainty and feelings of betrayal . If Mary shared what she knew of God’s plan, he has to consider whether he believes the story. If he decides to end their engagement, what will happen to Mary and her baby? Hamilton encourages that we can learn how to approach our own challenges by considering this moment for Joseph. This is a dark time for Joseph because he does not know God’s plan yet. He cannot see that God’s greatest miracle is already in motion. “Just as it all seems to be going wrong [in our own lives], it could be then that God is doing something remarkable, that you or I simply cannot see yet.”
To consider: 1. What blessings would Joseph miss if he had walked away from Mary? What might this teach us about walking away from our own disappointing situations? Should we consider God’s plan before making our decision? 2. How do the responses of Joseph and Elizabeth relate to Mary’s response to surprising news? Remember her exclamation, “Here I am, Lord. Use me according to your will.”
December 6, 2020
Devotional: Mary of Nazareth
Scripture: Read Luke 1:26-38
This week, as we prepare for the Journey, we will look to the experiences and life of Mary and of Joseph (summarized from “The Journey,” Hamilton).
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth . . .”
God often shows us He will do glorious things with people and places we might otherwise see as insignificant. Later In John 1:45-46 we hear, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth today might be any one of the small towns no one has heard of across Texas. Hamilton tells us the town of Nazareth likely began because there was a water source in that location, a spring, that the town eventually grew around and over. In that way, the town of Nazareth is like our New Braunfels where Comal Springs and the rivers once drew ancient tribes and eventually German settlers. At their beginnings, these water sources gave their town potential, but only God could know what they would become. The same is true of Mary. She was a young girl, “full of grace,” but from a no-name town and without many resources. She met the angel and his message with uncertainty at first, but ultimately she gave herself wholly to God and to God’s plan. From Hamilton, “As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we remember the little town of Nazareth and God’s choice of a young woman from this humble village through whom he would do his greatest work.”
To consider: 1. How did your hometown influence you and your life? Do you cling to its influence on your life or try to overcome it? Where can you see God in your answer? 2. How can you give yourself wholly to God, just as Mary did? Like Mary, how can you say this Advent season, “Here I am, Lord. Use me according to your will.”